The film, based on the French graphic novel Le Bleu est une Couleur Chaude (“blue is a warm colour”), by Julie Maroh, is a three-hour, visually explicit lesbian love story that got only a limited release in the United States and was rated NC-17.
The film is sweeping the foreign film categories in many of this season's awards shows, but did not receive any Academy Award nominations. It was deemed ineligible for consideration for the Best Foreign Film trophy because its distributor would not release it early in order to make a deadline; they reportedly objected to the policy since if it was an American film, it would have been eligible with its original release date intact.
“For me the film is a great love story, and the fact that it is a great love story that made all of us feel that we were privileged, not embarrassed, to be flies on the wall invited to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning,” Cannes jury president Steven Spielberg said when the film won the Palme D'Or. “We were absolutely spellbound by the brilliance of the performances of those two amazing young actresses and all the cast, and especially the way the director observed his players. We just all thought it was a profound love story.”
Some supporters had held out hope that the two actresses Spielberg praised -- Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos -- would receive nominations for their performances even though the film was ineligible for the Foreign Film category but it didn't happen.
Even beyond the Oscars and the rating, though, the film was not without controversy; its own stars and the graphic novelist who wrote the original story, herself a lesbian, all criticized filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche.
“[Kechiche] warned us that we had to trust him—blind trust—and give a lot of ourselves,” said Exarchopoulos. “He was making a movie about passion, so he wanted to have sex scenes, but without choreography—more likespecial sex scenes. He told us he didn’t want to hide the character’s sexuality because it’s an important part of every relationship. So he asked me if I was ready to make it, and I said, ‘Yeah, of course!’ because I’m young and pretty new to cinema. But once we were on the shoot, I realized that he really wanted us to give himeverything. Most people don’t even dare to ask the things that he did, and they’re more respectful—you get reassured during sex scenes, and they’re choreographed, which desexualizes the act.”
“We spent 10 days on just that one scene. It wasn’t like, “OK, today we’re going to shoot the sex scene!” It was 10 days,” added her co-star Léa Seydoux.
They also noted that they hardly knew each other prior to beginning the sex scene, which was one of the first things they had to film, and that they were largely subject to Kechiche’s whims throughout production.
“The thing is, in France, it’s not like in the States. The director has all the power. When you’re an actor on a film in France and you sign the contract, you have to give yourself, and in a way you’re trapped,” said Seydoux.
“It appears to me this was what was missing on the set: lesbians,” Maroh wrote. “I don’t know the sources of information for the director and the actresses (who are all straight, unless proven otherwise) and I was never consulted upstream. Maybe there was someone there to awkwardly imitate the possible positions with their hands, and/or to show them some porn of so-called ‘lesbians’ (unfortunately it’s hardly ever actually for a lesbian audience). Because — except for a few passages — this is all that it brings to my mind: a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn, and me feel very ill at ease. Especially when, in the middle of a movie theater, everyone was giggling. The heteronormative laughed because they don’t understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing, and found it ridiculous. And among the only people we didn’t hear giggling were the potential guys too busy feasting their eyes on an incarnation of their fantasies on screen.”